Trans-Tasman Resources Abandons EPA Hearings


In a significant turn of events, seabed mining company Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) has formally pulled out of the lengthy application process they commenced years ago. Their aim was to mine the seabed along the west coast of the North Island. Raglan Community Radio caught up with Phil McCabe, former chair of KASM and current Pacific lead for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, to delve into the details of this decision.

“We've won, all of us who submitted against that application. We did our job, we stopped seabed mining through that process,” said Phil. “Now we have to stop them from getting in the back door by making submissions to the government select committee on the ‘fast-track approvals’ bill, which is open until April 19th.” 

This mining consent process, which began in 2013-14 and saw a reapplication in 2016, has been marked by ongoing controversy. Despite initially receiving consent in 2017, legal challenges ensued, ultimately resulting in the overturning of the consent by the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. 

Following a recent EPA hearing in March, TTR announced their decision to withdraw from the process entirely.

TTR's decision to withdraw has ignited discussions regarding their potential pursuit of Fast Track Approval, a pathway under the coalition government's new bill. This controversial move enables companies to circumvent traditional environmental assessments and safeguards for ‘projects of regional or national significance,’ prompting concerns about the implications for environmental protection and regulation as well as democratic processes.

“Basically, companies put an application into a panel of three people. That panel gives the minister's advice whether or not to accept or decline. And that is based on the information that the company provides, there's no opportunity for community stakeholders - or anyone else - to feed information or perspectives into the process. 

“And then the minister can actually choose whether or not to consent. The experts in the area of law and policy are saying this has given ministers more power than ever before.”

Earlier in April, TTR released a statement confirming it was preparing an application for Fast Track Approval.

"On 5 April 2024 the New Zealand government formally invited Manuka's wholly owned subsidiary, Trans-Tasman Resources Limited (TTR), to prepare an application for the Taranaki VTM Project to be included as a listed project in New Zealand's Fast Track Approvals Bill."

It said the invitation was a "positive step toward Manuka achieving the final approvals required to develop and operate the world-class Taranaki VTM Project, a 3.2 billion tonne vanadium titanomagnetite iron sand resource located offshore in the South Taranaki Bight".

"TTR is currently preparing an application for the Taranaki VTM Project to be included in the bill."

Although TTR received a letter from the government inviting them to apply for the Fast Track process, approximately 200 companies received similar correspondence and it does not guarantee project approval. Chris Bishop, one of the ministers overseeing approvals if the bill passes, has explicitly stated that TTR only received a standard letter, dispelling any notion of a formal invitation as “misleading”.

Despite this, TTR have continued to put out press releases, published on the Australian Stock Exchange website, claiming that they have other avenues to pursue their mining project  based on their 2017 marine consent - which Phil claims is an outright lie, because their consent was quashed and they make no mention of the court’s overturning the consent.

During the EPA hearing process, expert witnesses contended that TTR had not furnished any fresh or compelling evidence to substantiate their assertions that mining would pose minimal environmental impact.


(Listen to our interview with Dougal Greer below - an expert that gave a witness statement at the hearings.)



“In the deep sea, there's no management of the waste - of the tailings - they just get spat out into the ocean for the environment to deal with. That's not appropriate. That's not how we operate on land and we shouldn't do that in the ocean.”

Significantly, there has been a noticeable change in business sentiment regarding TTR's operations as they've progressed through the consent process. Criticism from business commentators like Patrick Smellie underscores their repeated failure to secure resource consent for seabed mining, as well as a perceived arrogance in addressing the concerns raised about their project.

Shane Jones, Minister of Oceans and Fisheries, as well as Resources and Regional Development, has notably recused himself from the decision making process, citing a conflict of interest - a move that recognises the fishing industry’s significant effort and expense opposing the three seabed mining application that have been processed in New Zealand.

In regards to TTR applying for Fast Track Approval, Phil is optimistic about the amount of pushback the bill is receiving.

“There's huge pushback on this bill. It's a badly written bill. So there's lots of opportunities to slow it down and stop it in court cases, so legal experts are lining up ducks to slow this down.”

While the task may seem insurmountable at times, Phil says that it’s important to be on record and engage on these issues, whether that's signing on to the Greenpeace submission or making your own submission on the bill.

“Please don’t run away from this fight.”

On the global stage, seabed mining and deep sea mining have emerged as contentious issues, with a pivotal meeting scheduled for July at the International Seabed Authority in Kingston, Jamaica. There's speculation about the potential proposal of a moratorium on deep sea mining during this gathering. 

Phil observes a rising tide of countries rallying behind the idea of negotiating a moratorium. However, he expresses concern that pro-mining nations might advocate for the initiation of mining operations. He points out the pro-mining stance of the ISA's leadership and says there is substantial pressure to commence mining activities.

“The Pacific is geopolitically a really important place globally right now. There's this tension going on between the West and China; neither are saints. But the Pacific is sort of in the middle and trying to navigate that, and there is real potential for influence from these big powers.”

Phil suggests several avenues to join the battle against deep sea mining. Whether it's submitting opposition to the Fast Track Approval Bill or seeking further insight on the subject, one option is to watch "Deep Rising," a documentary narrated by Jason Momoa, showing the wonders and importance of our deep ocean and detailing the history and narrative of deep sea mining. The screening, followed by a Q&A with Phil, is scheduled for Friday, April 19th, at the Old School, starting at 6:30 PM.